Was This Pop-Up the Fyre Festival of Kids' Events? Event Profs Weigh In

An unofficial Willy Wonka experience in Glasgow resulted in lots of tears—and even some calls to the police. We asked event professionals to weigh in on where exactly the organizers went wrong.

Event Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in Glasgow
An attendee told The New York Times that there was no actual chocolate available at the doomed Willy’s Chocolate Experience.
Photo: Shutterstock

If you've been on social media this week, you've probably seen the pictures (and memes!) of last Saturday's doomed "Willy’s Chocolate Experience" in Glasgow, Scotland. The Wonka-inspired event—which was not affiliated with the recent Warner Bros. movie—cost about $44 a head and invited families to "a place where chocolate dreams become reality," with its website promising "mind-expanding projections, optical marvels, and exhibits that transport you into the realm of creativity."

As we now know, the actual experience was slightly different. According to The Guardian, the pop-up was “a sparsely decorated warehouse with a scattering of plastic props, a small bouncy castle, and some backdrops pinned against the walls.” Some angry attendees even called the Scotland police to the scene, which many described as a "scam."

The event organizer, House of Illuminati, canceled the event a few hours after its opening and is vowing to issue refunds (though reportedly failed to inform attendees who were en route to the experience, who are now demanding refunds for their train costs as well). A Facebook group has even been set up by angry parents whose kids were left in tears.

House of Illuminati owner Billy Coull (who has also faced accusations of authoring ChatGPT-written novels) has issued a statement saying, “Unfortunately, last minute we were let down in many areas of our event and tried our best to continue on and push through." On its Facebook page, the London-based company also posted, "The House of Illuminati will not be holding any other event in the foreseeable future."

So, where exactly did this event go so wrong? Alyson Mance, senior partnerships manager at Tinsel Experiential Design, offered a few theories: "1. They intended to scam guests all along, and just didn't expect backlash; 2. The actual producers pulled out at the last minute, and the organizers scrambled for a quick fix; or 3. They thought this would be an easy sell, avoided hiring pros to save money, and realized at the end that affordable decor was too sparse for the size of the venue." 

She continued, "Either way, it's pretty tragic! It seems the organizers were more focused on a cash grab than lending (or hiring) a creative eye to the situation and making the best of a low budget. For instance, high temporary walls (or even tension fabric, in a pinch) could have been used to wall in the experience, with AI imagery projected onto them for a more immersive feel. And mood lighting goes a long way."

But Lauren Rios, vice president of sales and marketing for Platinum XP, told BizBash she doesn't think the event could have been salvaged—in part due to the unrealistic expectations the team had set by using elaborate AI-generated images in its marketing materials. "While AI is an incredible tool, and in this scenario I believe was used to build excitement, it is also up to us and event planners and marketers to use it responsibly," she said. "When utilizing captivating and impressive AI-generated photos to market an event, we set the expectation high and need to be absolutely clear on what our attendees can actually expect to experience."

Artist and producer Bunhay Lim thinks the use of AI might have exacerbated a mismatch between the organizer's vision and the feasibility of the project. "It can be challenging when creative ambitions collide with practical constraints," he explained. "Finding a balance between artistic vision and realistic execution is key. AI's involvement might have added complexity, and taking a pause to reassess could have been beneficial."

The experience was also marketed as "immersive," a term that Rios thinks has lost a bit of its luster. "To me, immersive doesn't just mean incredible visuals but something that is activating multiple senses," she pointed out. "How are we able to not only feel engulfed by an experience, but how are we able to interact with it?"

And, of course, logistical issues—and an inexperienced team—likely played a part. "I'm getting 'the fabrication had to be stopped' vibes when seeing the pics," said experiential designer Carmen Vitanza. "Other factors like logistics issues with delivering the remaining pieces, zoning issues, facility problems/issues/requirements, or last-minute budget cuts look like they came out as well."

Vanessa Doval, director of sales, South Florida, for CSI DMC, agreed. “This serves as a reminder to use trusted professionals with years of experience," she says. "We live in an age where everything is so attainable with just a few strokes of the keyboard. Trusting supplies off a Google search can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long run.”

Jennifer Duffy, director of external communications for Encore, may have summed it up best: "People think event planning is easy," she told BizBash. "Boy, are they wrong!" 


Just for fun, we dug into the BizBash archives to reminisce on some Wonka-themed events that got it right. Scroll down for some sweet event inspiration. Event Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowIn December 2023, Booking.com and Warner Bros. Pictures teamed up to celebrate the holidays and the debut of the then-new Wonka film by offering two limited-time stays at Wonka’s Sweet Suites at Park Lane New York (pictured) and Viceroy Santa Monica.Photo: Courtesy of Booking.comEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowThe suites, inspired by the film, were equipped with life-size chocolate confections—including a decadent chocolate bar bed topped with marshmallows, set amid cotton candy clouds.Photo: Courtesy of Booking.comEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowThe suites, which also came with tickets to see Wonka in theaters, were available to book on a first-come, first-served basis, and were priced at $12.15 (the date the film was released).Photo: Courtesy of Booking.comEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowAlso in December 2023, the red carpet premiere for the Warner Bros. Wonka film was a candy lover's dream.Photo: Line 8 PhotographyEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowA step-and-repeat cleverly resembled a massive chocolate bar.Photo: Line 8 PhotographyEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowOversize sweets transported guests to the movie's colorful world. The arrivals area was produced by 15|40.Photo: Line 8 PhotographyEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowThe Alzheimer’s Association celebrated its 31st annual Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala in May 2018 at Hilton Chicago, featuring the theme of “Pure Imagination” as a nod to the late Gene Wilder, who died of complications surrounding Alzheimer’s.Photo: Bill RichertEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowThe event’s whimsical Willy Wonka decor by Kehoe Designs included a variety of colorful, eclectic centerpieces—and, of course, candy at each place setting. The gala raised $1.1 million.Photo: Bill RichertEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowIn April 2017, Your Event Solution produced an adult Willy Wonka-themed corporate event for an association’s annual meeting outside of Atlanta. Showcasing a unique take on a doughnut wall, the event offered doughnuts placed on giant letters that spelled out “sweet."Photo: PWP StudioEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowA fun appetizer came in the form of a "lollipops"—aka goat cheese rolled in chive, pistachio, and toasted sesame seeds.Photo: PWP StudioEvent Professionals Discuss the Failed Willy Wonka Pop-Up in GlasgowAnother clever catering idea came from the LondonHouse Chicago in 2019, with its $16-per-person Willy Wonka catering package. Sugar fans could enjoy Nerd-covered cheesecake pops, made-to-order cotton candy, and Everlasting Gobstoppers, among other sweets. Menu options inspired by the classic Roald Dahl children's novel include suspended “Violet” blueberry treats with vanilla cream ready to be plucked off the wall. The LondonHouse culinary team even created custom-wrapped chocolate bars with a select few containing “golden tickets” for raffle prizes.Photo: Rebecca Marie Photography

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